When it comes to money there are many different kinds of people.
And the same principle can be seen in the public officials who deal with public money.
Some people are the risk takers and others are the savers—there are all kinds.
The old saying of needing to spend money to make money is certainly a valid point in the business world, and it actually applies to government as well. Without taking some risk there might have never been a United States that grew to 50 states. Suppose our forefathers were afraid to spend money to “go west young man.” Maybe our country would still be the original 13 colonies.
That point is still clear in today’s world of government spending and the decision made by public officials that we all elect.
If you keep a close eye on your money in your personal life you probably do the same thing as a public official. But if you are a person who is not afraid to take risk in your personal life, then you are probably just as willing as a public official to take a chance on something that might appear to be a good investment.
That seemed to be what we saw a little over a week ago at the Slidell City Council meeting when one of the most contentious issues ever seen was addressed by the nine council members.
It was about whether to use $1.2 million of city money to buy the 96-acre Pinewood Country Club property, which has hit on hard financial times.
In the end, Council Members Glynn Pichon, Warren Crockett, Val Vanney, Sam Abney and Jay Newcomb voted against it. Council Members Kim Harbison, Landon Cusimano, Bill Borchert and Sam Caruso voted for it.
It was an opportunity for the city to spend money on something that did, in fact, have a level of risk to it. Sure, there was a chance that the property might not have really helped drainage for dozens of homes in the area that flooded—even though an engineer’s report suggested it probably would help. There was a chance that the current tenant who is leasing the clubhouse might have bailed the month after his lease ran out. There is always something, if you are looking for it.
There is always a way to scrutinize a purchase like that, and several of the council members made sure to do that in every way they could before a standing room only crowd, most of whom were Pinewood Country Club residents wanted the city to buy the property.
In the end, the losing vote was clearly a matter of council members who don’t have the vision to foresee all the good that might have come to the city had they purchased the land. Yes, money is somewhat tight for the city as it usually is for most municipalities. But in this case the city actually had the money to make the purchase.
And for those who were complaining about the city needing to fix more roads and repair more infrastructure, the argument was almost foolish sounding when you consider that Slidell is in the midst of a huge boon of free money from the government—over $100 million from FEMA to fix Hurricane Katrina related infrastructure!
One councilman thought the city wasn’t cutting enough grass in town. Another questioned whether it was a bailout of a private business—never mind what the city was getting from the transaction. He made sure to repeatedly bring up several people to make sure everyone knew “he was right” about the bailout. And for the record, he was not right.
But in the end, the decision to not purchase the land at less than $12,000 an acre was perhaps one of the poorest decisions ever made by the Slidell City Council in the history of the city. It was the biggest “lack of vision” ever seen by public officials, at least in the mind of a reporter who has covered this city for over 40 years.
There comes a time when city officials are supposed to be open to big moves that will transform Slidell into something more special than it is now. Why did we work so hard to bring a second new mall to town? Why do we try to bring big industry or business with great jobs here? Why do we approve the Tammany Trace coming into town?
The job of city officials is to have enough vision to see things that are still not here, but potentially, sometimes by spending some money, could do something great for Slidell.
The biggest complaint I hear in the public about Slidell is that we have gone far too long without something big happening here. Yes, we love our city. It is a great place to live. But we need something big here. Maybe it won’t be the third Disney World, but we need something.
Would Pinewood Country Club be our Disney World? Probably not. But it was an opportunity to do any number of great things, and now we will never know what could have been.
Yes, we will have more streets fixed. And it is likely a little more grass just might get cut. But you can be sure that the $1.2 million that will now go to other things will be money that will slowly disappear with no one ever knowing what difference it made in our city.
The purchase of Pinewood could have been that difference maker, but then it would have taken some vision and risk. And unfortunately, only four of our nine council members had the foresight to see that.
Kevin Chiri can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.